VPNs Can Keep You Anonymous. Here?s How.

Posted Jun 14, 2012

We came across a comment on an article about how virtual private networks protect against identity theft, and found that the commenter was misinformed about how VPN works. A better jobs needs to be done to educate people on the benefits of VPN and how the technology works. Here?s the full comment:

A VPN does not prevent a user from ?visiting malicious sites or downloading malicious software.? That statement is not true and may give some people an improper level of confidence in their security. As later stated, some VPN providers block access to known malicious sites and files but it is an impossible task to know them all. Therefore, people should be careful and smart about where they go and what they download even when connected to a VPN. Also, it is not true that VPN connections are completely anonymous. The company supplying you VPN services must route the data from your requests to your IP. Many VPN providers advertise that this information is not retained; however, there is always some level of tracking or logging. People must trust the company that provides them VPN access in that they will secure their (the user?s) information on principle and by ensuring the provider?s own security. There are many other things to consider when shopping for a VPN provider (e.g. the encryption mechanism is very important); however, these two points are of the utmost importance.

The sentence that?s misinformed is the one that says it?s untrue that VPN connections are anonymous. The commenter says it?s untrue because the VPN provider knows you who you are because it has to route the data and retain personal identifiable information in some way. This line of reasoning is flawed for several reasons:

  1. Arguing that anonymity isn?t possible because the VPN provider knows who you are is like saying privacy is impossible because your landlord or the guard at the front of your gated community knows who you are. Those who do want that level of anonymity offline tend to roam and not live in any one place because they can?t trust anyone with their information. That level of anonymity is only possible if you don?t go online at all. A VPN service will keep you anonymous to everyone but the VPN service, since the service needs to know who you are in order to deliver the service.
  2. The point of anonymity and a VPN provider is to protect your activities and your information from those you don?t trust, like any website you visit that could use your info your marketing purposes, or to protect against malicious code or a phishing site that?s trying to watch what you do online. If you don?t trust the VPN provider, then why would you use their service? The commenter mentions that trust is important, and anonymity is for those you don?t trust.
  3. Of course VPN services know who you are! You pay them for their service, so they have your information on hand in case you don?t pay or use their services for illegal activities. These providers want to be able to verify your identity and to find you in case you break their terms of service. Just because the provider knows who you are doesn?t mean the service itself doesn?t work. We wouldn?t expect any person or company to sell things to people who remain anonymous and can?t be verified in anyway.
  4. Some VPNs actually let you change your IP address, which is helpful to those who travel internationally a lot. The IPs are static addresses assigned to your connection, keeping you anonymous since it isn?t the IP assigned to your computer or mobile device. For someone who travels outside the U.S, the person could opt for a static IP based in the U.S so they can still access social media sites while visiting countries that block those websites. This way, the connection always says they are in the U.S, even when in China, France or Brazil.

VPN connections can be completely anonymous if done correctly, and at least keep you anonymous to the most important of parties. The main point of why the commenter said it was untrue is because the VPN provider knows who you are. If anyone needs to know who you are in order to keep you anonymous, it?s the VPN provider.

This blog post was sponsored. It was written by Allison Reilly, CEO and Founder of Stirring Media LLC, a content marketing and news production firm based in St. Louis.